The holiday season is a special time for family gatherings. But for many nursing home residents, Christmas is just another lonely day.
George Tristram, 77, a long-term-care patient at Bay Harbor Rehabilitation Center in Torrance, doesn't have relatives.
"My wife Mollie and I came here in 1963," said Tristram, a native of Manchester, England. "We were married for 28 years but we didn't have any children. My parents are gone, too."
Suffering from severe arthritis, he has had hip and knee replacement surgery to minimize his pain, but he is unable to walk.
Tristram does receive frequent visits from his former neighbors in the 5000 block of 134th Street in Hawthorne, where he still owns a home, and from people he used to work with at Garrett AiResearch.
"My neighbors and former co-workers from Garrett have been very good to me. I'm getting very good care here, but life is filled with many lonely days and fond memories."
To ease such loneliness, especially during the holidays, Bay Harbor and other South Bay nursing homes are encouraging people to drop by and visit patients, particularly those who have no one.
"Many patients just need to see a friendly smile, need to know that someone cares," said Leela Peters, Bay Harbor's director of development. "Their eyes light up when they see children and infants. It doesn't make a difference if they don't know you. All that matters is a friendly visit.
"The holidays are depressing because they remember happy moments once shared. An hour of your time can make a tremendous difference in their life."
Other nursing homes that welcome visits include Lomita Golden Age Convalescent Home, Royalwood Convalescent Hospital in Torrance and Hawthorne Convalescent Center. All would like to see such gestures year-round.
Difficult for Some Visitors
Peters acknowledged that some long-term geriatric patients have deteriorated mentally but said they still appreciate company.
Mildred Saddler, activity director for Lomita Golden Age Convalescent Home, said some volunteer visitors "can't handle a nursing home environment. Subsequently, involvement is restricted to holidays only."
She said the home gets visits and donations each holiday season by organizations such as the Kiwanis Club, Lomita Good Timers, Pioneers Club of America and AT&T, but individual volunteers also are needed.
Peters of Bay Harbor said long-term nursing patients often are sole survivors of their family. She said others find themselves without nearby relatives because of increased mobility in our society. "The average age of our patients is 82," she said.
David Acuna, administrator at Bay Harbor, noted that "children grow up and move far away from their parents. Long-term patients are affected the most. In some case, relatives who live great distances can visit only once a year."
Royalwood Convalescent Hospital and Hawthorne Convalescent Center have "Adopt-a-Grandparent" programs linking patients with volunteers who regularly spend time with them. All patients at both homes have been adopted, but the volunteers can stop by only so often and more visitors are welcome, administrators said.
David Coe, 42, vice president and controller for Gasket Manufacturing Co. in Gardena, and his wife, Linda, are eagerly waiting to adopt a grandparent.
"The elderly are a neglected portion of our population," David Coe said. "Yet we can learn so much from their wisdom and experience. They need and deserve companionship. It's not a question of money. Instead it's some quality time and building an individual's self-esteem."